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Indonesia a worrying blip on American radar screens HAWAII (HAWAII) - TURMOIL in Indonesia is surging onto American radar screens in Washington and at the United States Pacific Command's headquarters in Hawaii, where an officer with access to comprehensive intelligence lamented what he called 'a chaotic situation'. Particularly troubling are terrorist organisations, notably Jemaah Islamiah, despite the arrest of 130 suspects since the bombings in Bali in October last year that killed 202 people.
The threat of terror, plus other ills, has prevented Indonesia, with the world's largest Muslim population, from emerging as a leader of a moderate Islam that many Muslims - and the US - would like.
The chairman of a congressional subcommittee on Asian affairs, Mr James Leach, a Republican, asserted that in Indonesia 'extremist networks are larger, more capable, and more active than was previously believed'. Admiral Thomas Fargo, commander of US forces in Asia, agreed: 'Indonesia is a key battleground in the struggle against terrorism and radicalism.'

Adding to the chaos are:

A weak performance by President Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose administration has been inept and corroded by scandal. Moreover, the political opposition is in shambles and has failed so far to produce a likely replacement.

Separatist movements in Aceh, at the western end of the archipelago, and in Papua, at the eastern end. Elsewhere, religious frictions and ethnic violence are tearing at the national fabric.

Soaring piracy. The International Maritime Bureau in London has reported a worldwide increase of 37 per cent in pirate attacks during the first half of this year, one quarter - 64 - of which took place near Indonesia.

Backsliding by the Indonesian army, perhaps the most cohesive force in the country. It had begun to reform but has returned to abusing human rights, running illegal mining and lumbering businesses, and prostitution rackets.

US military officers said they are hindered by congressional restrictions from seeking to persuade the Indonesian army to change. Mr John Haseman, a retired colonel and former defence attache in Jakarta, said the US international military education and training programme flourished in Indonesia from 1989 to 1992 but was then halted by Congress.

'We are now dealing with armed forces who have no window on the West,' Mr Haseman said. Indonesian officers previously 'may never agree with all of our teachings, but at the very least it provided contacts and some insight for the Indonesian military on Western thinking'. 'People we know,' he concluded, 'are easier to work with than those we don't know.'
A critic of Indonesia, Senator Russell Feingold, a Democrat, opposed the military educational programme because 'there appears to be no interest in meaningful reform within the Indonesian military. Commitment at the highest levels is what it takes to turn this relationship around'.
Besides looking to Indonesia for help in the war on terror, the Pacific Command hoped to see the emergence of a democracy as part of a defensive bulwark against China if Beijing seeks to dominate Asia and drive the US from the Western Pacific.
That rampart would be anchored in South Asia by India, which has long been suspicious of the Chinese and has fought several border skirmishes with them, and in North-east Asia by Japan, which has begun to shed its pacifist cocoon and is worried about a long-term threat from China.
The Chinese 'have been working overtime', said one officer, to gain influence in Jakarta to preclude Indonesia from allying itself with the US. The inability of President Megawati to confront Indonesia's many disorders since she took office in June 2001 has caused dismay. 'A broad pessimism about the Megawati administration has increasingly crept into newspaper commentary in Indonesia and the wider international press,' said Mr Anthony Smith of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Honolulu.
In a recent assessment, he said Ms Megawati is seen principally as the daughter of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno. 'Her appeal,' he wrote, 'is based solely on her lineage, not what she can offer as a political leader.' Scandal has tainted Attorney-General Muhammad Abdul Rachman, who neglected to declare a luxurious house as an asset, and Vice-President Hamzah Haz, who has flirted with radical Islamists. President Megawati has appeased rather than controlled the army and failed to bring the economy out of the doldrums.
Moreover, 'the opposition is in complete disarray and currently unable to mount a serious challenge to her presidency', Mr Smith wrote. With no relief in sight, it's little wonder US radar screens are filled with glum images.

Posted in Human rights @ 02 August 2003 00:03 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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